Regular readers of this column shouldn’t be terribly surprised when I say that the way to help people in need is through voluntary giving. This applies to people with a terminal illness, the hungry, the homeless, or Idahoans in the so-called Medicaid gap.
Why is voluntary giving better than government programs? To start, it’s the most compassionate option. When people are forced to give through taxation, they’re not as invested in the success or failure of a program as they would if they gave on their own. Nor are they as invested in the people served by the program. Taxed individuals will complain about the way a program is run, but are otherwise nearly powerless to do anything about it.
Consider the federal food stamp program to feed the hungry, now referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program runs much the same in every state in the country. And in every state in the country, it is common to hear how poorly the program is administered and utilized, and how few resources reach the people in need. A common complaint is that the money that could be used to feed the hungry is instead directed to buying energy drinks and candy. Money that should be spent in local grocery stores often finds its way to places like Disneyland and casinos.
Yet people continue to support the program. Why? Not because they want more of the same. It’s because they have no choice. Government programs never end, even when they do a lousy job providing help to people who need it.
Charities are accountable to donors. As a result of that accountability, charities take better care to make sure the people they are charged with helping actually receive the help they’ve been given through the voluntary association of their donors. If the charities supported by private contributions fail to do right—if money designated for the needy is ill-spent—donors might stop giving. This is a design feature, not a flaw, in the way charitable giving occurs. As a result of the constant pressure to perform, charities are known to have far better outcomes for program participants than government programs. Accountability makes all the difference.
It is true that not all charities do great work. Some waste a lot of money on program administration or misidentified priorities, and yet they persist. But they continue to do so because people voluntarily support their work, perhaps because of a belief in the organization’s leadership, its mission, some result achieved in the past, or because there’s seemingly no better alternative. This often causes new organizations to emerge, which will offer better programs and better results, forcing the incumbent organization to improve or go out of business. How often does that occur in government?
When people give of their own volition, they’re more invested in the outcome. When you directly give a dollar to someone, and that person misspends your dollar, what are you likely to do as a result? You probably won’t give money to that person again. Being charitable, you’ll probably still give, but not to that person or not in that way. What if the dollar is spent wisely? You’re more likely to cheer the result and give again, joyful that people are being lifted up by your helping hand.
Today, Idahoans are confronted with the question of whether to expand Medicaid in order to help a population of people who don’t qualify for Medicaid and who don’t quality for government insurance subsidies. I ask you, which is likely to yield a better result for these Idahoans? Signing them up for a government program? Or connecting them to organizations and to donors who care and are invested, of their own free will, in the personal journeys and outcomes of others?